Tell Mama (song)

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"Tell Mama" is a song written by Clarence Carter, Marcus Daniel and Wilbur Terrell (though some recordings give the sole songwriting credit to Carter). It is best known in its 1967 recording by Etta James. An earlier version of the song was first recorded in 1966 by Carter, as "Tell Daddy".

"Tell Daddy" - the Clarence Carter version[edit]

Carter co-wrote "Tell Daddy", and recorded it at the FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, on 4 October 1966.[1] His recording, released on the Fame label, became Carter's first chart hit, reaching no.35 on the Billboard R&B chart in early 1967.[2]

"Tell Mama" - the Etta James version[edit]

"Tell Mama"
Single by Etta James
from the album Tell Mama
A-side Tell Mama
B-side I'd Rather Go Blind
Released 1967 (1967)
Recorded 1967, FAME Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama
Genre R&B
Length 2:20
Label Cadet 5578
Producer(s) Rick Hall

After a period of isolation, Etta James returned to recording in 1967. Chess Records' executive Leonard Chess persuaded her to record at the FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, which had recently produced a string of hits for such singers as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge. Using producer Rick Hall, and musicians including Barry Beckett, David Hood, Roger Hawkins and Spooner Oldham, many of whom had also worked on Clarence Carter's recordings, she recorded an album, Tell Mama, there between August and December 1967. The song "Tell Mama" – with the original version of "I'd Rather Go Blind" as its B-side – was released as a single on the Cadet label, and entered the R&B chart in November 1967. It rose to no.10 on the R&B chart, and no.23 on the pop chart, becoming her biggest pop hit.[3]

Etta James herself later said of the song:[4]

"There are folks who think "Tell Mama" is the Golden Moment of the Golden Age of Soul; they rant and rave about the snappy horn chart and the deep-pocket guitar groove, about how I sang the shit out of it. I wish I could agree. Sure, the song made me money. It warmed Leonard Chess's heart to see the thing cross over to the pop charts, where it lingered for a long while. You might even say it became a classic. But I have to confess that it was never a favorite of mine. Never liked it. Never liked singing it - not then, not now. I almost never perform it. It's not that I don't admire the chart and the songwriter. Clarence Carter... is great. Maybe it's just that I didn't like being cast in the role of the Great Earth Mother, the gal you come to for comfort and easy sex. Nothing was easy back then...."

Other versions[edit]

The song was recorded by Martha Veléz on her 1969 album Fiends and Angels.

Janis Joplin, for whom Etta James was an idol, sang this song at Festival Express in Toronto in 1970.[5]

The Clarence Carter version was recorded by the Soul Survivors with Duane Allman providing the session guitar work in 1969.

The song was also later recorded by Diana Ross, and included on some versions of her 1987 album Red Hot Rhythm & Blues.

The song was recorded by The Civil Wars on their second album.


  1. ^ "Tell Daddy" at SecondhandSongs. Retrieved 24 September 2013
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 67. 
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 222. ISBN 0-89820-155-1. 
  4. ^ Etta James, David Ritz. Rage To Survive: the Etta James story. Da Capo Press, 2003. pp. 173–174. Retrieved September 24, 2013. 
  5. ^ Video on YouTube